Nomadic Performer Interview Series: Stanford Reid and Maayan Oppenheim

Photo (taken at Dramatic Nomadic) courtesy of Christian Niedan

Photo (taken at Dramatic Nomadic) courtesy of Christian Niedan

Stanford Reid and Maayan Oppenheim are multi-instrumental musicians who organize and play as part of the #PowerOurPlanet performance showcase each week at Hell Phone in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The show provides a live venue for poets, comedians, hip-hop, and folk musicians, with Reid often accompanying performers using his saxophone and other instruments. #PowerOurPlanet also serves as a larger movement, with an emphasis on innovation and creativity aimed at uplifting humanity. 

Reid is an alternative electronic producer and singer / songwriter whose instruments include saxophone, bass, guitar, and drums. In 2014, he released an EP called Sounds of Falling Trees followed by a debut album, State of the Arts (Tate Music Group). Oppenheim is an indie-folk singer / songwriter who released the EP In Too Deep in 2013, and a full-length album called Science Fiction in 2014. In 2016, she toured Israel as a solo act, and she currently heads the Folkers on the Rock music collective, which presents the weekly #WeFolkMondays showcase at Exile Above 2A on Manhattan's LESfeaturing acoustic, folk, bluegrass, and country musicians. Together, Reid and Oppenheim have formed the HERE music collective, which will be touring the US as a three-piece band (including Tylor Elder) this fall and is currently raising money for traveling expenses.  

Image courtesy of the artists

Reid and Oppenheim recently supplied live music as part of Small Press Love Fest, co-presented by Nomadic Press at Hell Phone in June 2016, as well as Dramatic Nomadic at Pine Box Rock Shop that same month. They sat for an interview following the latter show and discussed #PowerOurPlanet, performing live, and their instruments of choice.  

On #PowerOurPlanet

Stanford: #PowerOurPlanet started as an innovations company. My dad was a mechanical engineer, so I grew up with a lot of engineering prowess. I was interested in science. I came up with this concept of turn by integrated resistance technology, and I was going to use it to make workout equipment that generated electricity, then start health clubs where people can go and work out and generate electricity as they work out. It would be good for the marketing of the business because not only do you get in shape, but you are powering the planet. You are contributing to the ecosystem because you are creating green electricity at the same time as staying in shape yourself. There were other ideas that stemmed from that one and more technology that we were developing. So I was seeking investors for it. I didn't find any right away and my job was taking up more of my time, so #PowerOurPlanet paused as the innovations company for quite some time.

I got signed to a record company that released an album, and I did a show at Hell Phone where they said, "We really love the energy you brought here. We love the vibe you brought. We want you to do another show." So I came back and did a second show there and they're like, "You did it again! Could you do this every week?" The first two shows were a month apart. The second set of shows were every week. I said, "I'll do it."

". . . innovation and creativity, they're one and the same. They come from the same part of the brain."

So when I started to put it together, I said, "You know what? #PowerOurPlanet. Now I'm going to tie creativity into that." Because innovation and creativity, they're one and the same. They come from the same part of the brain. It was something that could help people to grow and develop. So it was empowering the individual, and powering the ecosystem, and powering the planet#PowerOurPlanet. It just came together as that. I decided to put together these showcases with any genre of music, any type of creativity.  

I would start out with a talk for 5–10 minutes about philosophy because I study a lot of different types of philosophy. Then one day I wrote the "Pasta" song and I would do it, and people really loved the song. I came up with the melody a long time ago, and I developed that melody into what it is now. That's why I say it's magic because it's derived from the life I live, not something I just stumbled upon. Life gave that melody to me. The way it reaches people and people remember it. They hit me up like, "I love that song!" And I'm thinking, "It's just a little thing I diddied around with on the guitar."

Maayan: The first #PowerOurPlanet showcase where the record company booked him a show and he invited some friends to play, I was one of these friends. I really enjoyed the energy that Stanford brought to the show. He had this approach that was just very flowing. Everybody came together, and it turned out to be a great night and soon enough we were back in there. What drew me to the night is that positive energy, and some of the philosophy that Stanford shares, and the talent and the community feeling. That's mainly what I look for in a night like that, and that is also why I started Folkers on the Rock, which is about community and supporting local artists and connecting them with local music appreciators. What's really different about #PowerOurPlanet is the fact that it sort of has this jam concept that ties everything together. Also the comedy, poetry, rap artists, rock, folk—it's very diverse and the connecting element is the positive vibration. 

On Booking Artists

Stanford: One of the first shows I did here in Brooklyn was with Chris Carr and Melissa Gurney. Chris Carr had a Brooklyn Wildlife event, and then I did a GAMBAZine event right after. I came to Chris and Melissa, sat down with them, and said, "You know what? The record company wants me to book this show, and I feel like you already have a movement. I love what you guys are doing and I would like to join in, and maybe we can all team up."

They said, "That would be cool. But if there's one thing about you, Stanford, you have your energy, your own mission where you'd flourish much better on your own." Some people can get discouraged by not immediately teaming up with somebody who you feel is already doing something you want to do. But it pretty much told me, "Start from scratch," because what I had was something special. So I went right at it, and I'm very thankful to them for their encouragement in that way. 

I went to Union Square and ended up running into this random guy who was playing there, and he invited me to an open mic under St. Marks in Manhattan. So I went there and I saw a lot of great artists who had a lot of great energy. I was like, "Wow!" So I connected with one of them and he had a really nice energy. Then I realized that I would come up with these songs on my own. The lyrics would just pop into my mind. I'd studied some philosophy where pretty much, "Oh, this song has the underlying functions of that philosophy in it! How did I know to write that?" It just happened. Life wrote that song just like life writes philosophy. So I meet an artist where I hear something in their music and I'm like, "Does he even know what that could mean or derive from what he just said, metaphorically or literally?" Whatever sense you could derive meaning, I would hear when people said meaningful things. Whether that energy matched the meaning that was conveyed in the lyrics, it wasn't always so cohesive. But a lot of times I would see them both at the same time, and I would have to reach out to this person.

"There are a lot of artists you might encounter nowadays who use [art] because they see people who have gained due to artistic expression. So they do artistic expression in order to gain."

That's how I met Maayan. I saw her perform and something about her energy and the lyrics of her music, I was like, "Wow, there's a well of positivity and good energy there. That's the type of person I need to reach out to." I will only reach out to those artists. There are a lot of artists you might encounter nowadays who use [art] because they see people who have gained due to artistic expression. So they do artistic expression in order to gain. They're like, "I want to gain, so let me rap better than all the other rappers. Let me sing better. Let me perform better than someone else." Those people are not the ones who I connect with. That's why people come out and say, "Wow, Stanford, you're gonna have an awesome night! It's very rare you see this much good talent in one place!"

"It's all about the energy. It's not really about how many people are there."

A lot of people come back every week, or if they miss a show they're like, "I'm so sorry I missed the show, Stanford. I wish I could have been there." It's no biggie. It's all about the energy. It's not really about how many people are there. I'm worried about what kind of vibe is being brought, and that's how I go about booking the artists. It's just really about people who bring vibe. Sometimes you see someone, they sing really well, and you book them. They come out, and they might try to think negatively, and it's kind of funny how I deal with those people. I'm very zen, more or less, about it. I'm like, "Be happy. Life is beautiful."

The next thing you know, they're happy at the end of the night because the show went well and because people came and enjoyed them. But they forget that they allowed their energy to sink under. A lot of times I don't book those artists again. Then they'll hit me up and ask if they can perform in a show because they see that it's a good energy. I won't say, "Oh no, I don't ever want to book you again." I don't keep a hold of preconceived notions. I'll book them again. Some of those artists that have great energy and come to perform now in recent showswhen they first performed there, maybe they were the ones who kind of had a little funky attitude about the way certain things went. Because I don't give set list times, unless you really want me to give you a time. I'll write some numbers in a particular order for you to feel good, but it's more flowing than that. It's difficult for me to force myself into a particular structure. So that's why I deal with artists who kind of go with the flow, and whatever crowd they're in front of with their music, people can connect with it. 

"I feel the vibe of the room and I think it influences the way that I perform because it's communication, and I am telling a story, and it's a true story. But it comes out a little bit different every time I tell it."

Maayan: Every performance has to do with the audience that is there as well. I feel the vibe of the room and I think it influences the way that I perform because it's communication, and I am telling a story, and it's a true story. But it comes out a little bit different every time I tell it. Performing at #PowerOurPlanet on a regular basis provides a second home for my music. Because it's great company with a lot of great talent that comes through, it makes it a place that I want to keep going back to and keep sharing my music and keep meeting like-minded people who are doing the same thing that I do. 

On Folkers On the Rock

Maayan: Folkers on the Rock is a curated showcase and we have a jam sometimes at the end. It's more focused on acoustic-driven singer/songwriters and bands. We don't have comedy or poetry, so it's more music-centric, but it has a lot of similar elements to #PowerOurPlanet: positive vibration, support, and community. I felt the need for a folk-focused or independent rock-focused showcase that's available to the underground indie folk scene here, which I felt didn't have that much of a voice. Not a niche place for that specifically. And because that's the type of music that I do, that's what I wanted to do. A lot of people found that this community is exactly what they were looking for as well. It was happening around the same time as #PowerOurPlanet was growing, so we've been doing some cross-promotion and booking and it's been great.

On the Saxophone

Stanford: The saxophone was the only instrument that I was never taught how to play. I was taught how to play piano. A person showed me some things on bass. I was taught how to play drums. No one ever taught me to play saxophone. I actually lied to everyone and told them I already knew how to play when my mom first bought me one in sixth grade. I showed up to school and I lied because they wouldn't let me be in band class if I didn't already have prior lessons. They would say, "You have to take lessons to get to a certain degree." So I said, "Oh, you know what? I already know how to play." So I lied to the band director and I lied to the other students.

The day I came to school with my saxophone, I didn't even know how to put it together properly. But by the next day, I came into school and knew how to play the saxophone proficiently enough that I ended up being first chair most of the time through high school. At one point, I was the best saxophone player in Clayton County, Georgia. I was in the best symphonic band and I was first chair, so that made me best in the county, I guess. But what I realized about saxophone was, saxophone is kind of like life. It's not the same every day. In school, they tried to force us to make our horns be consistent. They'd want you to blow warm air into it so it can be warm and tune it exactly the same way so it can sound the same way every day. When you're in a symphonic band, that's important.

I kind of broke out of that structure immediately. A lot of times, I would try to even arrange certain songs differently. The band director would usually let me have my creative freedom. I'd be like, "I think this song would be better if that note were to go up here. You change that one note in this song and it would be way better." The band director would give it a shot and he'd allow me to change the note. I notice in a lot of the songs that I do. The song wrote itself, not me writing the song. So the structure is what it is. I don't usually change it. I don't usually switch it to anything else. The pasta song is always that same way.

"The way I see it, life is not about what the road does to you. It's about what you do to the road. That's how paths are created."

When I hear a poem and I get behind someone, I don't just play what I want to play to their poem. The way I see it, life is not about what the road does to you. It's about what you do to the road. That's how paths are created. A path is created because somebody said, "Hey, I'm going this way because there's steps here for a road," not "Because there's grass here, I'm gonna walk around." It's about what you do to the road. So when I'm playing behind somebody else and they're the right hand leading the situation, I know that I'm going to be a very good left hand. One hand runs the show and the other one assists. One hand washes the other.

So if I hear someone doing a poem, they're leading the show. I listen to what kind of intonation they have, what kind of energy they have, and where the saxophone is, and I bring it in. Usually it just fits. They enjoy it so much that they ask me to do it repeatedly. They hit me up the day before like, "Listen, I want to do what we did last week. Can you please come and play?" He might do the same poem, but I won't play the same thing both times. Sometimes I'll hop on the drum set and I do a little bit of drums and the sax at the same time. It's just to add a little bit of structure to what's being played so that they can feel even more where I'm coming from with a sound that's as abstract as when you have a little bit of percussion to keep the tempo going. I pretty much just fit in and follow them.

That's why I play with so many bands right now. People hit me up like, "Stan, come play with us! Come play with us!" I always go if I'm free, because I just fit in there. If you're running the show, I'm gonna fit in. Sometimes they want me to do more, like, "Come on, sax, take it away!" OK, you want me to take it away? I'll do it when you say it. But other than that, I'm just gonna fill in with your movement and not go against the energy.